Young Australians and Domestic Violence

Article excerpt

Up to one-quarter of young people in Australia have witnessed an incident of physical or domestic violence against their mother or stepmother. These findings come from a survey of 5,000 Australians aged between 12 and 20 from all States and Territories in Australia. Data of this nature have not been available before, and it must be noted that what is included within the definition of domestic violence is crucial to the amount reported.

The rate of witnessing varied considerably depending on the nature of household living arrangements. For example, the witnessing of male to female parental violence ranged from 14 per cent for those young people living with both parents to 41 per cent for those living with " mum and her partner" . Young people of lower socioeconomic status were about one and a half times more likely to be aware of violence towards their mothers or fathers than those from upper socioeconomic households. Indigenous youth were significantly more likely to have experienced physical domestic violence amongst their parents or parents' partners. In the case of male to female violence, the rate was 42 per cent compared to 23 per cent for all respondents, and for female to male violence the rate was 33 per cent compared to 22 per cent.

The findings in relation to the effect of witnessing domestic violence on both attitudes and experience give support to the "cycle of violence" thesis: witnessing parental domestic violence is the strongest predictor of perpetration of violence in young people's own intimate relationships. This paper is a contribution to policy development in diverse family and community arrangements.

Adam Graycar

Director

In 1998 and 1999, an investigation into young people's experience of, and attitudes towards, domestic violence was undertaken by the Crime Research Centre at the University of Western Australia and Donovan Research. This research was funded by National Crime Prevention and the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs under the funding plan of Partnerships Against Domestic Violence. It represents the largest research project of its kind ever conducted in Australia. Because of the subjective and sensitive nature of this topic, the investigation involved gathering both quantitative and qualitative data to create a comprehensive picture of the experience of domestic violence in the lives of young Australians.

This brief overview will summarise some of the salient findings of young people's experiences of violence in their own relationships, their experience of witnessing adult domestic violence and their attitudes towards violence. The implications of the findings for understanding young people's experience of domestic violence and prevention will be briefly highlighted. The full report of the research (Crime Research Centre & Donovan Research forthcoming) includes an extensive literature review and methodological details. It also includes a full discussion of definitions and the benefits of using the term "family violence", particularly with Indigenous Australians. The term "dating violence", although widely used in the United States, is not widely recognised in the Australian context and thus is described explicitly, if inelegantly, as violence in young people's intimate relationships.

The focus here will be on selected findings from the survey of 5,000 young people. The survey frame was 12 to 20-yearold Australians, in and out of school, from all States and Territories of Australia. The use of a stratified random sampling technique meant that all Australian young people within the major pre-defined groups (age, gender, attending/not attending school, State or Territory and socioeconomic status) had an equal and random chance of being selected. Those not at school (2,000) were reached through a street intercept survey, whilst those at school (3,000) were surveyed in the classroom. Young people who responded to the survey completed a questionnaire which contained a range of questions comprising attitude scales and victimisation measures. …